Table of Contents

Handbook on Theories of Governance

Handbook on Theories of Governance

Edited by Christopher Ansell and Jacob Torfing

In the past two decades, governance theories have arisen semi-independently across multiple disciplines. In law and regulation, planning, democratic theory, economics, public management, and international relations, among other disciplines, scholars have sought to describe new strategies of governing. As a result, the notion of governance is now one of the most frequently used social science concepts in the world. No single theory encompasses this diverse body of work, but rather multiple theories with different aims and perspectives. The Handbook on Theories of Governance collects these theories of governance together as an analytical resource for governing in an increasingly complex, fragmented and dynamic society.

Chapter 25: Discourse theory

Steven Griggs and David Howarth

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy, regulation and governance


This chapter examines how poststructuralist discourse theory can offer new insights into the critical assessment of the transformation, stabilization and reproduction of the practices of governance networks. It begins by setting out the guiding assumptions of the approach of political discourse theory, before exploring their implications for the study of governance networks. In so doing, it foregrounds the political construction of governance networks, and their constitution through acts of power and the drawing of antagonisms. By radicalizing the insights of the Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, and by drawing on the work of Laclau and Mouffe, the chapter argues that change and inertia in governance networks will thus be the outcome of hegemonic struggles. It investigates the political logics of such hegemonic struggles before analyzing how fantasmatic narratives explain the “grip” of particular governance practices. In conclusion, the chapter sets out the critical and normative implications of political discourse theory, cautioning against hard and fast characterizations of the forms of network governance, which themselves are based on stark binary oppositions. Poststructuralism, it concludes, recenters attention on the everyday “messy” politics of governance networks.

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